How to Write a Short Story/Introduction


Nowadays a good short story is a cash asset. The demand is steady, the market unlimited, and the prices good. No other form of writing attracts half the attention nor commands half the rates of payment. “Fiction,” says Jack London, “pays best of all, and when it is of a fair quality, is most easily sold.” A literary beginner, I firmly believe, has a much better chance in this field than in any other; and if he possesses a fair education and is in earnest, he has the chance to make a good living and acquire a modest fame.

Every day that passes adds new markets for the short story. Says Frank A. Munsey:

“The great field to-day is for writers of fiction. There is not half enough to go around. Publishers all over the world are reaching out for both short and long stories. Good ones are extremely difficult to find. Prices have gone up and up and up, but the supply does not begin to equal the demand. Nothing appeals to so wide a class or gives so much pleasure. Love, romance, mystery, adventure, will never lose their charm. They are as fresh to-day with the human heart as they were in old Pompeii and countless ages before."

Nor is the call only for stories by well-known authors. The editors of the very best magazines are constantly on the alert for new writers. Mr. Alden, editor of Harper's, says that were it not for these contributors "the magazine would languish in all its fine tissues for lack of the infusion of new blood."

To-day the literary beginner who succeeds is the one who welcomes suggestions. He knows he cannot turn author on the instant, merely by wishing; the wish-appeasing genii are not abroad in this enlightened age. On the contrary he realizes that he must study the profession; must fit himself for the work.

"In my own case," says William Dean Howells, in his recent book, "Literature and Life," "I noticed that the contributors who could be best left to themselves were those who were most amenable to suggestion and even correction, who took the blue pencil with a smile, and bowed gladly to the rod of the proofreader. Those who were on the alert for offence, who resented a marginal note as a slight, and bumptiously demanded that their work be printed just as they had written it, were commonly not much more desired by the reader than by the editor."

In conclusion, it may not be amiss to suggest that the short story writer often becomes a novelist. It is true that all who can write short fiction cannot produce a readable book, but a little reflection will show that a large percentage of the novelists served an apprenticeship writing short stories.